Conservative Columnist: The End of War as We Know It?

Are we merely waiting for a casus belli in the Levant this summer?

I have been following the Hamas takeover of Gaza with a sense of what Yogi Berra, in reference to Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, described as "déjà vu all over again."

Almost exactly a year ago, Professor Michael I. Krauss of George Mason University School of Law and I co-authored an op-ed in which we predicted that Hizballah's Iranian-backed qualitative and quantitative build-up of armaments just north of the Israeli border was straining the delicate security balance and quickly creating an intolerable situation that would lead to open conflict. Less than a week after our piece appeared, the Second Lebanon War broke out after a Hizballah unit crossed the frontier into Israel, killing three Israel Defense Force soldiers and kidnapping two others.

Now another Islamist terrorist group, Hamas, controls territory on the borders of Israel. It is well-armed and-if the deputy chairman of its political bureau, Dr. Moussa Abu Marzouq, is to be taken at his word-a "campaign against the Zionist enemy" is precisely what is needed to end the intra-Palestinian conflict. While I concur with TNI editor Nikolas K. Gvosdev's assessment that "a large scale military incursion to try and root Hamas out is probably too costly for Israel to contemplate in terms of blood", I also wonder if the alternative-waiting as the militants consolidate their position-might not actually be worse for the Jewish state. If I am right, the last week's declarations of support for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert notwithstanding, are we merely waiting for a casus belli?

Herein are the underappreciated consequences of last summer's war, implications which bear not only on the current tense situation in the Middle East, but also the very future of armed conflict in other situations around the world.

As my co-author and I noted in another op-ed on the morrow of the outbreak of hostilities last July, Olmert actually presented a cogent legal argument for his country's recourse to arms. By tacitly allowing Hizballah to control the border region with Israel and by including the group in the then-cabinet, the Lebanese government could no longer readily disavow the terrorists. The Hizballah action was "not a terrorist attack but the action of a sovereign state that attacked Israel for no reason and without provocation"-in other words, a pure casus belli. Hence, we concluded, "So war it is-a war of self-defense against unlawful Lebanese aggression in which the Israeli government has the obligation to its citizens to inflict maximum damage to the infrastructure of those who have attacked them" in order to quickly push the latter to their limit and end the conflict.

Our legal analysis was predicated on an essentially Clausewitzian view of war as the continuation of politics by other means. Statesmen ought to do everything possible to prevent the outbreak of hostilities, but, once it is clear that diplomacy has failed or one of the parties initiates hostilities (casus belli), warriors are allowed to deliver what diplomats failed to produce: a definitive resolution of the conflict by determining a winner and a loser so that the outlines of the peace to follow might respect the comparative strengths and other realities on the ground-and thus be more stable than the status quo ante bellum.

Precisely because war is a bloody business, however, the traditional doctrine carried strong sanctions which discouraged bellicose leaders from pushing their nations into conflict: Once they unleashed the dogs of war, they faced dire consequences, including debellatio, the ending of their belligerency through the complete destruction of their state. The unconditional surrenders of the Third Reich and the Japanese Empire precipitated by their aggression are prime examples of this principle.

However, I underestimated the ability of asymmetric warfare and anti-war "humanitarians", who claim exclusive ownership of the laws of war, to eclipse this traditional doctrine.

Human rights advocacy and other groups operating under the "humanitarian" rubric have long eschewed questions of the jus ad bellum. In the aftermath of the Gulf War, a number of them, supported by leading legal scholars, even questioned whether the United Nations-authorized use of force to liberate Kuwait was justified insofar as military necessity required the extension of the theatre of operations beyond the borders of the emirate into Iraq. However, it is only recently-most dramatically in the debates over "proportionality" during the war with Hizballah-that the full extent of the influence of this agnosticism of aggressor and victim has become evident. Whereas once adventurers had to reckon with the risk of their behavior, now they can rest assured that "humanitarian considerations" in world opinion-and, ultimately, at the United Nations-will put them and their targets on the same moral plane and, if it comes to it, not only save them from total disaster, but likely dictate that the clock simply be wound back to just before the outbreak of hostilities, leaving them no worse off for having gambled.